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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

School in the good old days.

Sometimes, actually most of the time, I get weary of those who say, "American education isn't as good or rigorous as it was back in my day." I present to you a textbook I rescued from old John Marshall High School. "Cavalcade of American Writing" Copyright 1961, edited by Gunnar Horn.xon Americans except for a couple of "Negro Spirituals" made up, according to the author, by "humble and uneducated slaves." Marion Anderson's picture is on the introductory page making hers the only named black person in the book. The song "Dixie" is in the anthology next to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Henry W. Grady's "New South," a praise for the South written in a time when Jim Crow was firmly established as the law of the old Confederacy, is included in the anthology.
I think I might have used this text when I was in high school in the 60s. There are about 111 selections in this by around 70 authors, 9 are women. There are no selections from any non-Anglo-Sa
Nearly all the questions following the selection are what we in the education biz would classify as DOK1 responses to the text. Typical is this one about Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address": "What explanation does Lincoln give for making his address short?"
My point is this. We teach much more to our students today. We teach many more authors, a larger variety of authors, and we ask much more of our students in their responses.
We are doing a better job of teaching today to a far more difficult environment than those who went before us. We owe them much, but we have nothing to be ashamed of in comparing ourselves to them.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Review of "Water to Wine"

Water to Wine: Some of My StoryWater to Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Water to Wine: Some of My Story is Brian Zahnd's memoir of his spiritual journey from "Americanized Christianity" to a deeper level of Christian living. Zahnd first encountered the Christian faith during the "Jesus Movement" of the early 1970s. He began a non-denominational Pentecostal church named "Word of Life Church" in St. Joseph, Missouri that grew into a highly successful fellowship.

Despite his success as a pastor and much in demand speaker, Zahnd began to feel a his faith was lacking depth, and so he began a study and walk of faith that led him to discover more a deeper theology and prayer life than he had experienced in more formulaic Christian worship and belief.

He developed an appreciation for Christian thinkers like St. Augustine, Thomas Merton, G. K. Chesterton, and St. Francis of Assisi. He read Karl Barth's Dogmatics, no easy chore I can affirm, as well as other theologians. He also developed a deeper prayer life through spiritual mystics like Julian of Norwich along with a host of other poets and singers, including Bob Dylan.

I found his story interesting in that he rejects the typical conservatism of most evangelical Christianity. He calls his uncritical viewing of the American air attacks on Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War his "worst sin." He says that his changing perspective have cost him many former friends and church members. He also is critical of the evangelical churches uncritical endorsement of capitalism. His criticism reminds me of something I encountered a long time ago and affected my attitude toward conservative evangelicalism.

Several decades ago I was in a Christian book store and saw some "biblical action figures" for sale. This was during the "golden age" of action figures, if such an age exists, featuring "He-Man," "Skeletor," "She-Rah," and others. These articulated dolls were heroes like "Samson," "David," "Moses," "Joshua," and "Gideon." There were even villains like "Goliath" or "Pharoah." It seemed to me that someone had taken a consumer product and had poured "Christian sauce" over it to make it acceptable and also to make a buck.

I find his spiritual journey similar to my own in many ways. I was raised evangelical, in the holiness tradition, but have since joined a church involved in the social gospel. My own passion is for social justice. This is one area of lack I see in Zahnd's story. He hints that he may be open to working for "justice of all," but he does not detail any concrete steps he has taken in this direction.


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Sunday, March 06, 2016

Notes from Mayflower UCC 3/6/16


Here are some notes I took while attending Mayflower this morning along with Cat. My comments are in [brackets].

Sermon by Rev. Lori Walke
Rev. Lori Walke

Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 [The Parable of the Prodigal Son]
Sermon Title: THE WORST PARABLE

Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees [think-Club for Growth & other such groups] and the scribes [think any group of religious fundamentalists]

We all like to imagine ourselves as the Prodigal Son in this story because we like the idea that no matter how badly we mess things up, we can still be redeemed.

We often find ourselves acting like the older brother who is critical of the way that the father treats the wastefully extravagant son (which is what the word "prodigal" means. We want to see consequences for bad choices.

We don't want to play the part of the "prodigal" father who is wastefully extravagant not only with his welcome and forgiveness of the son.

We need to learn how to say 3 things: "We Love You. You Are Forgiven. Welcome Homes."

[My question, "So when does love and forgiveness become enabling?"]


Thursday, March 03, 2016

What Happened When Our Juniors Were Required to Take the SAT on Wednesday

Actually, this was not exactly high-stakes, but the attitude the kids had towards it was about the same.
On Wednesday, all juniors in the Oklahoma City Public School district were required to take the SAT exam.  This is the brainchild of someone brought into the district by the new administration. Here's how our kids responded.

A large number of juniors were absent from the test on Wednesday.  I was the proctor for what was supposed to be a group of 20 but only 15 bothered to show up.  So about a quarter of the students or more elected not to take the test with their feet.

It was very warm in the testing room. The temperature on the room thermostat, which the teachers do not control, rose to about 81 degrees. We managed to find a couple of room fans, one of which is my own, to attempt to cool the kids down.  Bottled water was provided, but it was not refrigerated. 

Heads began to go down rather early in the test. TB put his head down at the start. IM complained about the heat and then decided to nap. 

A few seemed to look upon the test as an opportunity for them to show how well they can perform on the test and/or get into college. Most, though, saw this as something they had to endure.'

I wonder if this is because we educators do not demand enough of these students, and so they are not prepared. Or has the culture of poverty, the hopelessness of these children so stunted their ambitions that they do not think this test is worth the effort it takes to perform well since they do not see that they can reap any rewards from it.

Despite all the problems I see, it did appear that most of the 15 students were making an effort to do well. 

Then they begin to get restless. We started at 8:00am and ended at around 1 pm.  We are doing the version of the test that has an essay component.  Many students leave the essay blank, which is something they do when I give them a combination multiple choice/essay test. The essay portion has an extended bit of reading along with it. Many looked at the reading in the essay booklet and exclaimed, "Hell No!"

IM awakens from her nap and begin talking, in whispers, to her friend TT.  I wanted them separated in class, but they were pretty good for most of the test.  In the back, 3 boys start teasing each other. 

Finally, we are through, and we go down to Media Center for lunch.  The lunch crew provides a  sack lunch for the students consisting of some lunch meat, a slice of cheese, white bread, and an apple. Fortunately, someone sprang for some pizza for the crew.  

We will see what the results of the test are sometime in the future.  We are about 20 days or so from the End Of Instruction Tests.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Tomorrow--Another Day, Another Test

Tomorrow all juniors in our school will take the SAT. I suppose that this has something to do with getting our students "college and career ready," the new mantra of education gurus. 
Pretty much the way all teachers feel these days

I am expecting that some students will seize the opportunity given to them to qualify for college; however, for the most part, several will blow off the test and be finished in 5 minutes of what is going to be a 4 hour test.

I just hope they remember to bring their No. 2 pencils!


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Benchmark Testing Day 2


2nd Hour: 5 students with their heads on the desk during the test at one point. Many students finish their portion of the test in less than 5 minutes.

3rd Hour: 3 students with their heads on the desk despite all my efforts to get them up.  All 3, DC, TB and ML, did the same thing yesterday. They obviously are not taking this test as seriously as the powers that be in the district administration expect them to. Another student, JB, also puts her head down. Normally, JB is a good student, but the test has tired her out or bored her to sleep. I don't know what I can do.

4th Hour: This is the AP class, yet even here, I have to go to a couple of students and get them going on this test.

6th Hour: The problem here is mainly students talking and carrying on. It's the female students this time.  But there are a couple of napping students: CB and AH.

It is nearly impossible for teens to remain silent and/or alert as they need to do during high stakes testing.  This type of testing goes against nearly every characteristic of adolescents. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Giving Benchmarks


Today I gave the school district "benchmark" tests in English III. These are designed to find out how much the students have learned so far this year.

Good luck with that.

Students dislike taking these tests as much as I dislike giving them. The first thing they want to know is if these tests will count for a grade. (Yes) Then they want to know how many questions there are on it. (63) Then they want to know why they have to take them along with the other tests we make them take. (Hard one to answer, but it comes down to knowing what we still need to learn.)  Then they go about trying to sabotage the process.

This is what happens during 2nd hour.

Some, not all, just try to rush through as fast as they can.  Some, like SR, just sit and groush. Of course, SR sits and kvetches about almost everything.  I often wonder why she can't be more like SM who is continually bright and sunny most all of the time. (See, I told you that I'd put you in the blog.)

F keeps her phone out although she has been told that she has to put it away for the test.  She acts as if she can't hear me, so I have to call for an administrator to takes her out of class. He brings her back about 5 minutes later. She is now contrite and will do what I say.  She is one of the best at playing the Passive/Aggressive game.

FM comes in about 30 minutes late without a pass. When he finds out that I will assign him detention, he goes back and gets a pass marked "Excused."  I think that he should be counted absent, but when I ask an administrator about it, he says that the excused pass excuses everything. He is not able to start the test, so he will have to start from the beginning tomorrow. 

None of the students finish today, so we will have to do this again tomorrow. 

3rd hour.

DC and ML keep their head on their desk all during the test despite all my efforts to get them to at least try and get started.  The rest do pretty well because I let them know if they get at least 25 of the 63 questions done, they can get their beloved phones out and do whatever it is so vital for them to do for the rest of the hour.  

I have had to resort to bribery.

4th hour goes well. That's the AP Language class

6th hour

This is very small class, and I would think I would have few problems with them. However, this is the class of my comedians. Particularly 3 boys who seem to go everywhere together.  I call them, among other things, the 3 Amigoes, and sometimes Moe, Larry and Curly. (I have other trio names that I pull out from time to time.)

They more or less feed off of each other along with some of the girls in the class.  Usually I just go with the flow, and we make it through the period in good spirits. However, when we need to buckle down and take things a bit more seriously, the hijinks get in the way.

Example, (from one of the girls), "Mr. Green, do boys get bloated?"
"Huh?"
"Do boys get bloated?"
"Mr. Green, she is asking if boys get gas."
"You need to do this test. It's important."
"Mr. Green, I am about to pass gas."
"Just go out into the hall, then."
"Okay."
Of course, by this time flatulence has become the topic of the day.

I get them through the exam okay, but I wonder how much "useful data" has been generated through all this.